Takeaways from Panthers’ introduction of coach Frank Reich

New Carolina Panthers head coach Frank Reich speaks during his introductory press conference at Bank of America Stadium on Tuesday, January 31, 2023.

New Carolina Panthers head coach Frank Reich speaks during his introductory press conference at Bank of America Stadium on Tuesday, January 31, 2023.

jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Roughly 28 years after he was presented as the Carolina Panthers’ first starting quarterback, Frank Reich was re-introduced Tuesday at Bank of America Stadium as the sixth full-time head coach in franchise history.

Wearing a tie with the Panthers’ color scheme woven in its design, Reich acknowledged the sentimental pride of his history with the team and the Carolinas before beaming with passion as he discussed what he envisioned for the franchise’s future.

“The vision is clear … it’s to create a band of excellence, create this consistency of excellence that at the top is championships and at the bottom, we’re a playoff team,” Reich said.

Following an impassioned monologue about his plans for his new job, Reich fielded questions about his team-building philosophy, his coaching staff construction and his up-and-down tenure with the Indianapolis Colts.

After Reich spoke to the media and others in attendance — which included several current and former Panthers players — owner David Tepper and GM Scott Fitterer also addressed the head-coaching search.

Here are some takeaways from Reich’s introductory event:

Reich isn’t opposed to giving up play-calling

Reich was an offensive play-caller throughout his nearly five-year tenure in Indianapolis. However, despite that history, Reich confirmed what The Observer reported last week: The head coach isn’t a lock to call to plays for the Panthers. Reich said that he wanted to complete his staff before deciding on game-day responsibilities, including play-calling.

Reich acknowledged that there has been a recent trend of NFL head coaches passing the baton to a coordinator for play-calling responsibilities. Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni — Reich’s prized pupil — gave up play-calling midway through his first season as head coach in 2021 and turned over those responsibilities to offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, who interviewed virtually with the Panthers for Reich’s job earlier this month.

As Tepper later pointed out, Reich will oversee the planning and scheming of the offense whether he calls plays or not.

Tepper said that the NFL has become offensively driven with rule-making and changes to the game. Tepper said he wanted to avoid hiring a CEO head coach — a label given to coaches without specific play-calling experience, like former head coach Matt Rhule — and wanted someone who had a lot of experience designing game plans on offense or defense.

As Tepper said during his introduction of Reich, the new head coach checked that box as a longtime offensive play-caller.

Fitterer will have control of the 53-man roster

According to Reich, Fitterer will be in charge of the 53-man roster, and Reich will be in charge of the game day roster. However, both Reich and Fitterer acknowledged that this will be a collaborative process between the two decision-makers.

Following Reich’s press conference, Fitterer said that having control of the 53-man roster is an overrated distinction. Fitterer said that if he and Reich aren’t on the same page, they’ll discuss it and potentially avoid the move.

Reich said the relationship between himself and Fitterer is the most important bond in the building. The head coach also said the power trio of head coach, general manager and ownership are critical for the success of the team.

Tepper thanks Steve Wilks

Tepper began his discussion with the media by thanking former interim head coach Steve Wilks, who went 6-6 during a 12-game stretch in the wake of Rhule’s October firing.

Tepper said that the Panthers were “open to the best people we have in that process, and that’s just what we did” in regards to Wilks’ candidacy for the head coach job.

Tepper cited the league’s outlook on the need to increase scoring for entertainment purposes as a reason to favor an offensive-minded head coach. The owner said he felt it was a mistake to have a CEO-like head coach, though he clarified that the comment wasn’t meant as an insult to Rhule, who had that distinction when he was hired the Panthers in 2020.

Due to Wilks’ pending civil suit against the NFL regarding alleged discriminatory hiring practices, Tepper was asked about the Panthers’ connection to the case. Tepper said the Panthers have “probably the most diverse executive team in the NFL right now,” which includes team president Kristi Coleman.

Tepper said he wanted to break the “old boys network” in the league. He said that is accomplished by hiring the best people for each job.

Tepper admits 2020 search wasn’t good enough

Tepper admitted that the Panthers could have run a better coaching search in 2020 when they hired Rhule.

“With all humility, I could have done better,” Tepper said, reflecting on the previous search. “I’m not saying that Rhule wasn’t a good coach — I’m not saying that — please don’t interpret it that way. I’m saying I could have run a better process.”

Tepper said he learned from that experience and adjusted his approach during the search that led to hiring Reich. Tepper said that he and the executive team were very thorough this time around, as he was in every interview within the process.

“Every single interview,” Tepper said. “That’s part of this process — to make sure we see these people, we vet these people.”

Tepper, Fitterer and assistant GM Dan Morgan reached out to references from around the NFL for each candidate.

“We went through to find as many sources as we could,” Tepper said. “And we went through stats.”

Reich lays down his beliefs in team building

Reich said he is excited to build off the Panthers’ existing roster.

Reich said he knows that the team can run the ball, and he believes that the offense has to run the ball to be successful. He also said that running the ball and a vertical passing game are the two key elements of his offensive mindset and strategy.

Reich also complimented the defense, noting the unit has been a strength of the team in recent years.

With young players like offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu, running back Chuba Hubbard, safety Jeremy Chinn and guard Brady Christensen in attendance, Reich explained his three primary principles in building a successful team.

“The first is a relentless pursuit to get better every day. … Nothing can ever get in the way of that,” Reich said. “The second one is that excellence comes through competition. We’re going to compete in everything we do. In meetings, in the weight room, on the practice field, that’s the way you get to be the best. … Lastly, it’s going to be about the team. The team. The team. The team. We will celebrate, we’ve got great individual players. They’ll hit many individual goals and milestones and we’ll celebrate all of those but the team always comes first. That’s what we’re going to be about.”

Reich also described his “five traits to great.” Reich said a successful team is built around toughness, accelerated vision (slowing the game down mentally), footwork, playmaking and X-factor traits, which include an excellent work ethic and leadership.

Reich emphasized his desire to have a collaborate process with players and coaches, and he acknowledged that football is a “players’ game.”

This story was originally published January 31, 2023 3:29 PM.

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Mike Kaye covers the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer. Kaye previously covered the entire NFL for Pro Football Network, the Philadelphia Eagles for NJ Advance Media and the Jacksonville Jaguars for First Coast News. He is a graduate of the University of North Florida.

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